Jump to content

Rob Bell


Recommended Posts

For what it's worth, I attended Bell's church one week this past year, the Sunday of the Festival of Faith and music at Calvin College. I wasn't keen on going initially, but half of the 10 or so students wanted to, and strong-armed everyone else (including me, the only non-student!) to go.

Anyway, it was really interesting. I appreciated some things: the church-in-the-round atmosphere, the musicians in the band all facing inward so that it didn't have a 'rock show' like atmosphere, some things here and there. But it also really turned me off. I'm really neutral on Bell, as in I don't know enough about him to critique too much, but his sermon was....something, for lack of better words. It was short (a fact that I'm OK with!), but almost a third of it dealt with a running Larry Bird joke. Maybe half of it? And then, he was prooftexting like crazy. I won't rattle on.

That said, I can see why Bell and his church draw the people they do. And I can see that he's impacted the lives of many! But man, it wasn't for me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 96
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Truetruth wrote:

: Look, everyone, are we really going to be as blithe as the author of Velvet Elvis about foundational Christian doctrines such as the Virgin Birth?

Possibly not -- I have not read that book, so I cannot say how blithe it is -- but I was replying more to the reasons given here for upholding that particular doctrine.

: If Bell does think so though, he is clearly out of line with historic Christianity . . .

Yeah, but so is every Protestant, to one degree or another. And back in the day when I was a Protestant myself, I was never entirely sure how my fellow Protestants could so casually throw aside one set of historical beliefs and practices while clinging so ferociously to others. (This becomes an especially pressing point when, e.g., people accept female priests but reject same-sex unions. There are, presumably, ways to justify such a seeming discrepancy. But there are other arguments, just as powerful, for accepting both things or rejecting both things. And of course, the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed say nothing about gender roles one way or the other. Etc., etc.)

Pardon the tangent. But suffice it to say that there are a number of points I was pretty blithe about in my Protestant days that I am definitely NOT so blithe about nowadays -- and this transformation in my thinking has taken place in the six or seven years that I have been a member of this board (including its earlier incarnations). You should have seen the debates SDG and I used to have over whether Joseph and Mary had ever had sex. I think it is fair to say that my blitheness riled him up a bit, but now, he and I are more or less on the same page, as far as that goes.

So, no, I do not take the virginal conception lightly. In fact, I do not take Mary's perpetual virginity lightly. And the Church, throughout its history, has never taken such things lightly -- not even in the early days of the Reformation. It is only in the last few hundred years that many Protestants have begun to dismiss Mary's virginity AFTER giving birth to Christ as unimportant, and it is not at all surprising to me that some would begin to say that Mary's virginity BEFORE giving birth to Christ was unimportant, too.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For what it's worth, I attended Bell's church one week this past year, the Sunday of the Festival of Faith and music at Calvin College. I wasn't keen on going initially, but half of the 10 or so students wanted to, and strong-armed everyone else (including me, the only non-student!) to go.

Anyway, it was really interesting. I appreciated some things: the church-in-the-round atmosphere, the musicians in the band all facing inward so that it didn't have a 'rock show' like atmosphere, some things here and there. But it also really turned me off. I'm really neutral on Bell, as in I don't know enough about him to critique too much, but his sermon was....something, for lack of better words. It was short (a fact that I'm OK with!), but almost a third of it dealt with a running Larry Bird joke. Maybe half of it? And then, he was prooftexting like crazy. I won't rattle on.

That said, I can see why Bell and his church draw the people they do. And I can see that he's impacted the lives of many! But man, it wasn't for me.

I do remember that teaching. I think Bird was being used as a metaphor about the Individual, and how in modern day sports such emphasis is placed on individualism. Bird made a shot that caused the other team's bench to just fall apart and laugh in amazement.

It's really too bad though that you only saw that one teaching. This year the teaching in Philippians been the most solid teaching, just out of this world. No real antics like the one you saw, although on two of the weeks Rob did act out a teaching as Paul, writing from his jail cell and speaking to the guards. This year I've been brought to tears so many times I cannot even count, and the series has given me a love for Paul I've never had before. It's also really put me in the context of the time that those prison letters were written. The early church and what they went through with the Empire -- absolutely incredible, life changing stuff.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Peter, as a former "apologetics-head" Catholic, and now Reformed Protestant, I would say that the consciously Reformed are in line with historic Christianity, as they teach (as Paul does, for one example) that justification before God is by grace through faith, apart from "meritorious" works of the Law (Romans 4:1-8, Romans 3:27-29, Paul's entire letter to the Galatians, etc). Now, one Reformed stream might be *more* in line with historic Christianity than another, but *no* Reformed stream is so outside the line of historic Christianity as to downplay the importance of the Virgin Birth and the Trinity, as Rob Bell seems to do in Velvet Elvis.

About Mary's perpetual virginity, we could probably talk for hours about that issue, especially as in my Catholic days, I read many apologetic arguments for it (but no Biblical ones, from actual verses in the Bible, very conspicuously), but I'm not sure how productive that conversation would be. Insofar as the Virgin Birth, it is significant that that doctrine is part of the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, but Mary's perpetual virginity is part of neither. I'm anything but a blithe Protestant-- I think deeply about everything that I believe and do.

Suffice it to say that, as a former Catholic who loved Catholic apologetics but who accepted many things, ultimately, based on the "authority of the Church," I love the fact that the "slogan" of the consciously, thoughtfully Reformed (although *not* the average American evangelical) is "Reformed, and always reforming, according to the word of God." I wish that Rob Bell had more of this spirit, and not the mindset that conjectures hypothetically, carelessly, about the importance, or lack thereof, of the Virgin Birth and the Trinity in one's "following Christ."

Edited by Truetruth
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Truetruth wrote:

: Peter, as a former "apologetics-head" Catholic, and now Reformed Protestant . . .

Just for the record, I'm neither; I'm Eastern Orthodox.

: Now, one Reformed stream might be *more* in line with historic Christianity than another, but *no* Reformed stream is so outside the line of historic Christianity as to downplay the importance of the Virgin Birth and the Trinity, as Rob Bell seems to do in Velvet Elvis.

Perhaps. But I'm thinking of actual believers and what they believe, rather than the statements of faith issued by various denominations. And for what it's worth, there are a number of churches -- the Anglicans/Episcopalians, for example, and the United Church in my country (not sure what the equivalent would be in yours) -- that are FULL of theologians and ministers who DO question those things, even if the churches in question do seem to affirm those traditional doctrines on paper.

: Insofar as the Virgin Birth, it is significant that that doctrine is part of the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, but Mary's perpetual virginity is part of neither.

I'm not sure what the significance would be, especially since belief in both of these things is well attested, textually, by the time that both of those creeds were written. And the creeds were created to address specific controversies, such as the Gnostic belief that Jesus was not fully human: emphasizing his birth, albeit birth by a virgin, along with his death and so forth was a way of accentuating his humanity, whereas Mary's ongoing virginity would have had no bearing on that controversy one way or the other.

: I'm anything but a blithe Protestant-- I think deeply about everything that I believe and do.

Glad to hear it -- and my apologies if it sounded like I was suggesting that you, yourself, were being blithe about this. I was speaking in general, there.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Peter, when I refer to "Reformed streams" of Christianity, I'm referring to theologically orthodox (in belief and in practice) Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, Reformed Baptist, and "Calvinistic non-denominational" churches. Any denominations and/or churches which in practice deny, or play fast and loose with, doctrines such as the Virgin Birth or the Trinity, effectively place themselves outside of Reformed Protestantism and outside of Christian orthodoxy itself. Rob Bell seems to be moving on a trajectory much like these denominations and churches. I want no part of it. Bell is saying some helpful things and issuing some helpful challenges to evangelical Christians, as I mentioned in my first post on this thread, but he is also doing much harm by misleading sincere Christians about the importance of right doctrine. He seems to set right action above right belief, when in truth, the former flows from the latter, but the former does not make up for a *lack of* the latter.

As for your statement that the Virgin Birth is not necessarily a matter of Incarnational identity, the Gospels tell us that before Mary "knew" Joseph, she was visited by an angel who told her that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit. If Jesus had not been conceived in this way, would He not have been stained by original sin, via Joseph? (I do see the Bible teaching that Mary is also a sinner, in need of redemption, as we all are, but I'm deferring here to those who believe-- as I once did-- in the Immaculate Conception.)

As for my statement about my former Catholicism, I did know that you are Eastern Orthodox. I have looked into EO too in my times of studying. I stated that I was a former apologetics-loving Catholic simply to disabuse you of any possible notion that I am an American evangelical who doesn't think deeply about doctrine and practice (which is all too common here in the U.S.).

Edited by Truetruth
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Christopher,

I'm asserting the following on the basis of only having read the book once, and certainly not from having it in front of me, however,,,,

I don't believe that Bell is playing fast and loose with the virgin birth, I just think he is saying that IF it was categorically disproved he would still be a Christian.

So I'd like to ask you to answer the following (which you didn't actually answer earlier)

IF the Virgin Birth were categorically disproved what would happen to your following Christ? Would it modify, or would you be forced to ditch it?

Peter,

You never actually quite say for definite whether you now hold to perpetual virginity or whether you're just exploring the idea, but either way am I right in thinking that, like Bell, you hold to the Virgin Birth, but would not be too thrown off if you found it to be disproven. Either way I'll avoid the phrase

"lashing the linen"

. ;)

Matt

Matt

Edited by MattPage
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Matt,

I did answer your question earlier, but it was an "indirect" answer, making reference to Paul's statement about the Resurrection, so I'll answer again. The Virgin Birth can never actually be disproved, so I'll assume that you're speaking hypothetically, as Rob Bell does. Of course, the Bible states the Virgin Birth as an historical fact, and Christians accept it because of our commitment to the God of the Bible. In that light, would I still be a Christian if the Virgin Birth were "proven" false? No-- in the same way that Paul says our faith is futile, and we are, of all men, most to be pitied, if the Resurrection did not actually, physically happen.

If the Virgin Birth were proven false, it would invalidate the Bible's claim that Jesus was conceived in Mary (a virgin until Joseph "knew" her, according to the Bible) through the Holy Spirit. This would effectively make Jesus Christ a sinful man, born, as we all are, with the stain of original sin. His claims to divinity, and the Bible's prophecies concerning Him in the Old Testament, would be invalidated. Therefore, there would be no reason or basis for me to be a Christian.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Any denominations and/or churches which in practice deny, or play fast and loose with, doctrines such as the Virgin Birth or the Trinity, effectively place themselves outside of Reformed Protestantism and outside of Christian orthodoxy itself. Rob Bell seems to be moving on a trajectory much like these denominations and churches. I want no part of it.

Well said. This is not Christianity. Bell is preaching a false gospel and will lead his flock straight into hell.

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But, as I keep saying, Bell is not "preaching" either of those things.

If you go to the doctrinal basis of the church he founded and leads it quite explicitly says

"Jesus the Messiah, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, mysteriously God having become flesh."

I can't see how that could be any clearer. I'm beginning to feel that some of these (repeated) criticisms are either from those that haven't actually read the book in the first place, or who have wilfully misunderstood it.

Matt

Edited by MattPage
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Truetruth:

Just a very brief point. It seems to me that the question Bell is raising in Velvet Elvis is something like this:

What is the role that a belief like that of the virgin birth plays in one's life? This, it seems to me is the issue that people like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, etc, are getting at - it is a reconstrual of the role that doctrine plays in life. It is not about filtering through 'traditional' doctrines, finding some of them wanting, and leaving them behind. It's about a dissatisfaction with a certain approach to the role that "right belief" plays in being a Christian. Or, it is to ask the question "what does it mean to believe something?"

If you argue that belief in the virgin birth is important because logically you cannot hold that Jesus was "the Son of God" (assuming we know what that means) without belief in it, I think there you have a classic example of a belief whose only role is that of making some conceptual structure seem more solid (when all you really do is defer the insecurity back a stage, where it gets noticed less - we don't ask exactly how a unique conception is supposed to help in forming a sinless human being). The belief has no impact upon life, other than that it seems necessary to maintian other beliefs which do have an obvious impact upon life. In other words, you have a model of truth in which something can be true but not really matter.

And that's why it matters to question it. So that we have a approach in which truth is that which matters most.

Edited by stu
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks Christopher - that clears things up a bit.

In light of that, I think all Bell is really saying is that in such an hypothetical situation he would still remain a Christian. Whilst I understand why you'd see doing so as futile, I don't think that's sufficient to mark him out as "dangerous" or "out of line with historic Christianity", particularly given that he affirms the Virgin Birth in any case.

Matt

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The belief has no impact upon life, other than that it seems necessary to maintian other beliefs which do have an obvious impact upon life. In other words, you have a model of truth in which something can be true but not really matter.

And that's why it matters to question it. So that we have a approach in which truth is that which matters most.

What principle determines when something is true but doesn

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I discussed this first chapter with some friends over the weekend, and another statement that Bell made struck me during this conversation. He says, "Doctrine is a wonderful servant, but a harsh master." I think that this brings his statements into some level of perspective and lets me appreciate them more. I think that what this boils down to is the question of, "Do the things I believe make me more able to love and follow Jesus, or less?"

I think that what he's saying is that a doctrine that we aren't willing to "play with," ask questions about, test, hypothesize about, is something that is ultimately dead. All we are going to with it is defend it, at the expense maybe of our relationships with others (the second commandment: love your neighbor as yourself). But when we are willing to test and revise doctrines, then we become more interested in if they stand up under critique than in protecting them from critique. If someone critiques something that we are dedicated to defending, I think that our response is to attack back. But if we have these doctrines in perspective then we are more willing to say, "That's an interesting idea. Does it stand up?"

I don't think he's saying that the Trinity isn't true, but that the early Church worshiped God for hundreds of years without having a very systematic understanding of it. Therefore, if someone tries to revise it further, we needn't feel threatened by this. A more appropriate response is to see if it actually does stretch in the direction that the theorist proposes. The same would be true if the "discoveries" Bell hypotheticalizes about birth were correct. Notice that his hypothetical situation does not in any way compromise the inerrancy of scripture: it just suggests that what we thought scripture to mean is different than its actual meaning. I don't see any more reason for one's faith to collapse under that circumstance than it would need to if one decided (as I did) that the Genesis account of creation was not referencing a literal 6 day creation.

Scott -- 2nd Story -- Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Truetruth wrote:

: As for your statement that the Virgin Birth is not necessarily a matter of Incarnational identity, the Gospels tell us that before Mary "knew" Joseph, she was visited by an angel who told her that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit. If Jesus had not been conceived in this way, would He not have been stained by original sin, via Joseph?

No, I don't think so, but then, as a member of the Eastern church, I am not particularly influenced by Augustinian ideas about original sin.

An analogy, if I may: Catholics and Orthodox share a belief in Mary's lifelong purity, sexual and otherwise (though there is some disagreement among the Orthodox over whether it goes back to her conception or only to the Annunciation). Whenever I have heard Catholics defend what they call the Immaculate Conception, they often seem to do so out of a perceived need to protect Jesus from the sin he would otherwise have "inherited" from his mother. But for the Orthodox, it's the other way 'round: Mary needed to be protected, as it were, from Jesus' holiness. People who merely touched the Ark of the Covenant, even with the best of intentions, had a tendency to drop dead. God dwelled within Mary's womb -- within her body -- for nine months, so unless she had been particularly sanctified, the experience could have killed her.

Likewise, I don't see any need to protect Jesus' from "the stain of original sin". I don't see why testicles should somehow be automatically more adept at transmitting sin than ovaries. Jesus is God in the flesh. Every other fact, whatever it might be, must submit to that one truth. The truth does not submit to other, lesser facts.

Side note: My own reasons for believing in Mary's perpetual virginity (and Jesus's, too, for that matter) are largely influenced by my beliefs about sex and the way it makes people "one flesh" -- a belief which I had even when I was a Protestant. I have a hard time imagining who could be "one flesh" with God, so I have a hard time imagining that Jesus was ever married or sexually active. But we DO know that, like all sons and daughters, he was "one flesh", in a sense, with his mother -- indeed, he TOOK flesh from her -- and, in turn, I have a hard time imagining that anyone who had nurtured God within her body would have allowed anyone else in there afterwards. Especially given Jewish attitudes towards the holy, etc.

: Of course, the Bible states the Virgin Birth as an historical fact, and Christians accept it because of our commitment to the God of the Bible.

Well, no, not quite. The virginal conception, like everything else the Bible reports, was believed BEFORE the Bible was written. It was, in fact, because these things were believed that they were written into the Bible. (And for what it's worth, my own faith in the historicity of the virginal conception is bolstered by the fact that Matthew and Luke have two very different accounts of the birth of Jesus, yet those accounts agree on a number of details which point to an earlier, common tradition.)

: In that light, would I still be a Christian if the Virgin Birth were "proven" false? No-- in the same way that Paul says our faith is futile, and we are, of all men, most to be pitied, if the Resurrection did not actually, physically happen.

But, see, that's the thing. Paul never makes that claim about the virginal conception. He DOES make that claim about the Resurrection, which is all over the New Testament. But the virginal conception is never mentioned by Paul, Mark, John or the authors of the general epistles. It just doesn't seem to be as kerygmatic as all that.

MattPage wrote:

: You never actually quite say for definite whether you now hold to perpetual virginity or whether you're just exploring the idea, but either way am I right in thinking that, like Bell, you hold to the Virgin Birth, but would not be too thrown off if you found it to be disproven.

Well, it would certainly affect my theology, that's for sure. But how, exactly, I don't know.

: Either way I'll avoid the phrase

"lashing the linen"

. ;)

You have a long memory, sir. :)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Side note: My own reasons for believing in Mary's perpetual virginity (and Jesus's, too, for that matter) are largely influenced by my beliefs about sex and the way it makes people "one flesh" -- a belief which I had even when I was a Protestant. I have a hard time imagining who could be "one flesh" with God, so I have a hard time imagining that Jesus was ever married or sexually active. But we DO know that, like all sons and daughters, he was "one flesh", in a sense, with his mother -- indeed, he TOOK flesh from her -- and, in turn, I have a hard time imagining that anyone who had nurtured God within her body would have allowed anyone else in there afterwards. Especially given Jewish attitudes towards the holy, etc.

I agree with the point about Jesus, though I haven't seen that ever pop up in popular or academic lit on the subject. It just makes sense. As far as Mary's perception of her womb is concerned, we could just as easily conjecture that the documented emphasis on procreation in Jewish sources would supersede what she thought about her womb. Would she have correlated her womb and temple traditions? Interesting thought, but I am not sure how that could be demonstrated historically.

Well, no, not quite. The virginal conception, like everything else the Bible reports, was believed BEFORE the Bible was written. It was, in fact, because these things were believed that they were written into the Bible. (And for what it's worth, my own faith in the historicity of the virginal conception is bolstered by the fact that Matthew and Luke have two very different accounts of the birth of Jesus, yet those accounts agree on a number of details which point to an earlier, common tradition.)

Yeah, on the one hand its absence from Mark and John is telling. Where the gospels agree in terms of event, Paul tends to agree in terms of kerygma. The VB is one giant exclusion in this transition. On the other hand, the somewhat alarming presence of the VB in Matthew and Luke, complete with an out of the blue interpretation of the Isaiah 7 passage, adds up to a significant Christian innovation in OT interpretation. It is so unprecedented in Jewish terms that it must have been important for them to include it in their accounts (cf Wright on this). Bell picked a bad doctrine to downplay, as the VB hosts a significant re-reading of a central OT text. It is this sort of reading of the OT that is vital to the Christian faith, and if the VB was disproven, this method of interpretation would be seriously discredited. So yes, Rob, it is pretty important.

Some of these doctrines that we think of as throw-away ideas are actually the result of processes in early Christianity that are the backbone of how we arrived at creedal theology. If some of these throw-away doctrines were discredited, these historic processes would also be discredited. The VB is a doctrine that seems to stand outside of kerygma, but it is one of the theological facts that unfolded as the kerygma began to emerge from a network of OT interpretations, Jesus traditions, and assorted revelations.

A lot of these Emergent guys want to go old-school. They just don't go old-school enough.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Matt,

Rob Bell and his church affirm the Virgin Birth and the Trinity in the church's statement of faith, but Bell hypothetically conjectures that perhaps we should still "follow Christ" if we were to be "proven wrong" about these Christian doctrines. My brother, this is not just an exercise in asking questions about our faith in order to get to a deeper place with God. This is downplaying the importance of doctrines that are in the earliest Christian creeds-- because they are in the Bible. Again, I want no part of it. I have read these statements (or questions) in Velvet Elvis, and I have not willfully misunderstood them. They are dangerous. Downplaying Biblical doctrines about God is dangerous.

Solishu,

One is obviously to worship God, not "doctrine." However, doctrine helps us to know, understand, and love the God whom we worship. Biblical doctrines are short, compressed statements concerning what God tells us about Himself in the Bible. Rob Bell sets up a false dichotomy when he writes so passionately about right action, but then poses careless "hypothetical" questions about still "following Christ" if the Virgin Birth and the Trinity were proven false. Here is a good hypothetical question for us to ponder-- I wonder what Athanasius, who suffered so much and so bravely to defend the doctrine of the Trinity, would have to say about Rob Bell's question concerning the Trinity? Athanasius surely loved God deeply, which is why he defended the Trinity. Holding to these doctrines is not some dry intellectual exercise. It's a matter of loving the true God who has revealed Himself to us in Scripture. Downplaying the importance of these doctrines by asking careless hypothetical questions about them is not an act of love for God.

Peter,

When I wrote "the God of the Bible," I wasn't setting the Bible above God-- I was simply saying (as I did above), "the God who reveals Himself to us in Scripture." I will reply to your comments at greater length later, Lord willing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is downplaying the importance of doctrines that are in the earliest Christian creeds-- because they are in the Bible.

The earliest Christian creeds are in the Bible, and they don't contain the VB (bits in 1 Cor 15, Phil. 2, and 1 Tim 3 are all considered to be segments of early creeds embedded in Paul's discourse). I think the VB is important for reasons stated above (among others), but the VB doesn't become creedal until later.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

MLeary, when I mentioned the "earliest Christian creeds," I was referring to the formally adopted creeds that Christians today would recognize-- the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. As I wrote earlier though, the Virgin Birth is crucial to the faith of Christians, first and foremost, not because it is in a creed (as important as creeds are) but because it is in the Bible's explanation of how Jesus was conceived.

Edited by Truetruth
Link to comment
Share on other sites

MLeary, when I mentioned the "earliest Christian creeds," I was referring to the formally adopted creeds that Christians today would recognize-- the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. As I wrote earlier though, the Virgin Birth is crucial to the faith of Christians, first and foremost, not because it is in a creed (as important as creeds are) but because it is in the Bible's explanation of how Jesus was conceived.

The creeds you mention are early, but not the earliest. This is an important distinction. Doctrines like the VB as stated in Matthew and Luke evolved when distinctions between creed, Bible, and tradition are difficult to make. As you can see above, I agree that the VB is important because it is "the Bible's explanation," but such doctrines deserve far more nuance than that.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

MLeary wrote:

: As far as Mary's perception of her womb is concerned, we could just as easily conjecture that the documented emphasis on procreation in Jewish sources would supersede what she thought about her womb.

Well, there is that emphasis, yes, in some places. But there is also this, copied-and-pasted from an article/brochure written by a priest that I know:

An early first-century popular rabbinical tradition (first recorded by Philo, 20 BC-AD 50) notes that Moses "separated himself" from his wife Zipporah when he returned from his encounter with God in the burning bush. Another rabbinical tradition, concerning the choosing of the elders of Israel in Numbers 7, relates that after God had worked among them, one man exclaimed, "Woe to the wives of these men!" I cannot imagine that the fellow to the left of him replied, "What do you mean, Joe?" The meaning of the statement would have been immediately apparent.

So there was certainly a connection between sexual abstinence and association with the divine in at least some aspects of Jewish thought during Mary's lifetime.

: Would she have correlated her womb and temple traditions? Interesting thought, but I am not sure how that could be demonstrated historically.

Well, she might have, if the legends about her growing up in the Temple are true. I don't think they are, myself, but I am impressed by, e.g., Anne Rice's efforts to give those legends a semblance of historicity. :)

: On the other hand, the somewhat alarming presence of the VB in Matthew and Luke, complete with an out of the blue interpretation of the Isaiah 7 passage, adds up to a significant Christian innovation in OT interpretation. It is so unprecedented in Jewish terms that it must have been important for them to include it in their accounts (cf Wright on this). Bell picked a bad doctrine to downplay, as the VB hosts a significant re-reading of a central OT text. It is this sort of reading of the OT that is vital to the Christian faith, and if the VB was disproven, this method of interpretation would be seriously discredited. So yes, Rob, it is pretty important.

Very interesting point! Yeah, if memory serves, Wright says no Jewish scholar prior to the NT had ever interpreted Isaiah 7 the way that Matthew does -- so, rather than hypothesize that Matthew invented the virginal conception as a way to "fulfill" the passage, it makes more sense to believe that the virginal conception was already widely accepted and Matthew was fishing around for OT scriptures that would have prophesized it (because obviously it MUST have been prophesized, right? right?).

: A lot of these Emergent guys want to go old-school. They just don't go old-school enough.

Agreed!

Truetruth wrote:

: Rob Bell and his church affirm the Virgin Birth and the Trinity in the church's statement of faith, but Bell hypothetically conjectures that perhaps we should still "follow Christ" if we were to be "proven wrong" about these Christian doctrines.

I wonder, though, how many people who followed Christ during his lifetime were even aware of this particular doctrine. Should they not have "followed Christ" anyway?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

MLeary, I don't see how the distinction between Bible, creed, and tradition being "hard to make" has any bearing at all on the Virgin Birth. The VB is not fundamentally a matter of creeds or tradition. It is significant that the VB is affirmed in very early Christian creeds (I'll concede you the "earliest" part, relating to creeds in the Bible), but it is even more significant that the VB is clearly, undeniably presented in the Bible itself as the explanation for how Jesus was conceived. Rob Bell seems to think that the VB is a doctrine that, were we to be proven wrong about it, should have little bearing on our decision to follow Christ. God Himself doesn't seem to agree, given that the VB is His clear explanation in His own word for how His Son was conceived in the Incarnation.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Peter, we may not be able to know how many followers of Christ knew about, or understood, the Virgin Birth in those times. Jews certainly would have known the OT prophecies about the Messiah being born of a virgin, but as for numbers of how many Christians knew about or understood the VB, as relating to Jesus, in the earliest days of Christianity, that's hard to know.

However, Christians do know about the Virgin Birth now, and they have known about it and affirmed it at least since the time of the Apostles' Creed, about half a century from the last writings of the New Testament. With more knowledge and more understanding comes more responsibility. Rob Bell is not handling this responsibility wisely in posing hypothetical questions of "What if we've been wrong about the VB? Should we still follow Christ?" Such language is simply irresponsible, especially coming from a man who pastors a Christian church.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Truetruth wrote:

: Jews certainly would have known the OT prophecies about the Messiah being born of a virgin . . .

Except they didn't. That's partly what MLeary and I have been talking about in the most recent posts: the fact that no Jew interpreted Isaiah 7 this way prior to the Christians. The somewhat creative Matthean interpretation of Isaiah 7 in Matthew 1:22-23, like the somewhat creative rewriting of the Judean monarchy's family tree in Matthew 1:1-17, reflects the fact that Matthew already had certain beliefs about the messiahship and virginal conception of Jesus which influenced his reading of the OT. But he wasn't exactly proof-texting -- or, if he was, he was doing so in a way that clearly wouldn't have persuaded anyone familiar with the OT.

: With more knowledge and more understanding comes more responsibility.

Agreed. Though I have to say I'm kind of fond of hypothetical questions in general. :)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

An early first-century popular rabbinical tradition (first recorded by Philo, 20 BC-AD 50) notes that Moses "separated himself" from his wife Zipporah when he returned from his encounter with God in the burning bush. Another rabbinical tradition, concerning the choosing of the elders of Israel in Numbers 7, relates that after God had worked among them, one man exclaimed, "Woe to the wives of these men!" I cannot imagine that the fellow to the left of him replied, "What do you mean, Joe?" The meaning of the statement would have been immediately apparent.

Very, very interesting. There is also a reference from Rashi to Moses seperating himself from Zipporah (who was quite a looker apparently) that reads as following: "Now how did Miriam know that Moses had separated himself from his wife? Rabbi Natan says: Miriam was at the side of Zipporah at the time when it was told to Moses, 'Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.' When Zipporah heard, she said: 'Woe unto the wives of these men, if they [other husbands] are required to prophesy, for they will separate themselves from their wives just as my husband separated himself from me.'" (T. Onqelos)

Apparently, Rashi said that Father Nathan referred to the idea that Moses (and others) always refrained from sexual activity while involved with divine activities. Father Nathan is pretty early, so we are probably referring to the same thing that pops up in two different sources. Though rabbinical sources are notoriously difficult to date, you can't really argue against Philo being relevant to Mary's milieu. Additionally, I think Father Nathan is a trustworthy source of 1st century traditions. Long story short, thanks for that interesting wrinkle, lots of food for thought that is beyond my ken. There is nothing to say that Mary even wouldn't have independently ascribed her womb a permanent sanctity. The whole deal is so sui generis, she wouldn't require a measurable tradition to have created the idea herself. And now the argument gets referred back to exegesis of the "Jesus' brothers" texts. (*yawn)

MLeary, I don't see how the distinction between Bible, creed, and tradition being "hard to make" has any bearing at all on the Virgin Birth. The VB is not fundamentally a matter of creeds or tradition. It is significant that the VB is affirmed in very early Christian creeds (I'll concede you the "earliest" part, relating to creeds in the Bible), but it is even more significant that the VB is clearly, undeniably presented in the Bible itself as the explanation for how Jesus was conceived. Rob Bell seems to think that the VB is a doctrine that, were we to be proven wrong about it, should have little bearing on our decision to follow Christ. God Himself doesn't seem to agree, given that the VB is His clear explanation in His own word for how His Son was conceived in the Incarnation.

It was all just to say that you can't say with such ease: I believe X because the Bible says it. The NT is often a record of historical processes that shed light on what it affirms. Such doctrines require far more nuance than you have employed. Otherwise you are arguing with someone that broadly agrees with you.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share


×
×
  • Create New...